Tracing the Galaxy of Stars
The Shaw Brothers Studio is one of the most important filmmaking studios in Southeast Asia. Its influence has spread over thirty years and it has nurtured many great talents in front and behind the screen. The most prominent of these talents are the stars - cultivated and trained with great care, serving as a bridge between the studio and the public.
Post-war Hong Kong was a haven for movie stars. In 1950, Shaw and Sons took over the production facilities of the old Nanyang Studio, changing its name to Shaw Studio, and began to produce Mandarin feature films to supply its theatre chains throughout Singapore and Malaya. At this time, the studio's productions featured ex-Shanghai stars such as Li Lihua, Yan Jun, Zhou Manhua, Bai Guang and Huang He. The main genre was the romantic melodrama. At the same time, the studio began to seek out and develop new talent, such as Linda Lin Dai, Lucilla You Min, Chao Lei, etc, featuring them in small parts so as to clock up experience.
In 1955, Shaws established its Cantonese film unit, and began a programme of training new talent, recruiting prospects through auditions and acting classes. They founded a stable of actors including Patricia Lam Fung, Mak Kay, Pearl Au Kar-wai, Cheung Ying-choi, Patrick Lung Kong, Lui Kay, etc. These stars were actively featured in Cantonese films as a means of promoting them and the studio in the local market. They were also vastly promoted in Southeast Asia, opening up the market for Cantonese films.
In the mid-50s, the Mandarin cinema was dominated by Great Wall, Phoenix, MP and GI and other small independent production companies. Hong Kong became a major production centre for Mandarin films. At this time, Shaw Brothers' production numbers and efficiency were not high, giving rise to a supply problem. In 1957, Run Run Shaw came to Hong Kong from Singapore to re-orgainise the Shaw Brothers studio with the aim of raising the quality and quantity of Mandarin film production. He gathered together a pool of talent, built a new studio at Clearwater Bay, thus improving the standards of production. In 1958, the Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) Studio was established, with Run Run as its head. Shaw and Sons was assigned to looking after the theatres and distribution.
To secure the Southeast Asian market, it was imperative for Shaw Brothers to increase their competitiveness. Apart from attracting new stars such as Linda Lin Dai and Peter Chen Hou into its stable, the studio set about making big-budget historical epic films set in traditional China: Diau Charn (1958), The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959), Yang Kwei Fei (1962), Love Eterne (1963), etc. These films helped to ingrain the images of stars in the minds of the public. For example, Chao Lei was well known for playing emperors, Betty Loh Ti the 'Classical Beauty', while Ivy Ling Po became famous for cross-dressing roles. These big productions also introduced new stars such as Pat Ting Hung, Grace Ting Ning, Margaret Tu Chuan, helping to pave the way towards illustrious careers.
More stars were needed in order to cope with the rising numbers of productions. Shaws instituted the 'Southern Drama Group' in October 1961. Its first principal was the veteran actor Gu Wenzong. The Drama Group was divided into Cantonese and Mandarin units, giving lessons in body movement, feeling, voice delivery, singing, and dancing, on a systematic basis. The lessons also incorporated make-up, sets, and lighting theory. New stars that came out of the school included Lo Lieh, Cheng Pei-pei, Li Ching, Chin Ping, Fang Ying, Margaret Hsing Hui, Angela Yu Chien, Tina Chin Fei, Yueh Hua, Golden Chen Honglie, Lily Li, etc. Some actors were recruited and trained for specific films, such as Jimmy Wang Yu in Tiger Boy (1966), which made a star of the actor.
Apart from training talent in Hong Kong, Shaws also invited stars from Korea, Taiwan, the United States, and Japan, to appear in their films. Certain local stars had intimate connections with the Taiwan cinema, such as Lily Ho, Ching Li, Chen Szu-chia, Lin Chen-chi, etc.
In the 70s, Shaws started a 'Film and Television Actors' Training Centre' in order to accommodate the new medium of television. Stars such as Alexander Fu Sheng, Danny Lee, Wang Yu worked in both films and television. However, the rise of new generations of fimmakers exerted an impact on the studio system, pointing the film industry into new avenues of development. Shaws gradually wound down its film production, and the acting school no longer focused on training new stars. Rather, its training mode was maintained to keep up with the demand for acting talent in television.
In order to illustrate Shaw Brothers' star system, this exhibition has specially constructed a gigantic collage of about 70 stars involved in the making of different genre films in the Shaw studio. Below are the contents of six 'studio settings' that make up this collage.